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In a rematch of their bout at the Las Vegas Invitational in early March, Arizona once again defeated Air Force, 51-7, in the D1A Playoffs Opening Round. The Vegas romp was a two-point victory for the Wildcats, but in Saturday’s affair, Arizona scored eight tries and shut out the Zoomies in the second half. With the win, the Wildcats travel to the Red River Conference Champion, Baylor, for the D1A Quarterfinals.
After losing 53-3 to Utah, Arizona head coach Sean Duffy used that experience to build a foundation that led to Saturday’s win. “Preparation going in was huge, but on the field, I felt our groundwork was a big step forward. The attacking number is flattering, but it's a result of guys doing the little things well to help allow for big things and big plays to happen. Defensively, we knew we had to battle and I'm very proud of that after giving up a lot of points to this team last month.”
“The scoreboard favored us, but Air Force is a good side and they battled hard, particularly early in the second half," Duffy continued. "I think this win is a testament to the work put in by our guys since Utah, we felt we greatly underperformed and we've vowed since then to get as much as we can out of every session.”
The Wildcats scored immediately out of the gates through great phase play by Dante Weeks. Two more tries in the 19th and 28th minutes by Kyle and Matt Rogers extended the lead to 17-0 with ten minutes remaining in the half.
Air Force broke the goose egg in the 32nd minute when the forwards softened the defense allowing Dalton Welch to break the line for a ten-meter try. With the conversion, the Zoomies cut the score to ten points at 17-7. Arizona would not let Air Force build any momentum as Kurt Vecchio scored five minutes later for a 22-7 halftime lead.
Feeling they left some points on the board in the first half, the Wildcats exploded for four tries and a penalty after intermission. After Air Force attempted to assert itself early in the half, Arizona center Ben Joseph took over scoring two tries in succession for the 36-7 lead.
After a Lucas Thayer penalty, the Wildcats finished their 51-7 stellar win with tries from Ryan Hudson and Ben Scoular. As the final whistle blew, Arizona advanced to the D1A Quarterfinals against Baylor.
Air Force head Denny Merideth attributed the loss to momentum and ball control. “Arizona took [the momentum] and maintained it through almost the entire match. They controlled the ball very well and made few mistakes as opposed to a very high number of errors from our lads. I was proud of our forwards for their control of the set pieces... Basics are the key we must work on to be ready to reclaim a winning way in the fall.”
Duffy praised the play of his guys. “Kyle Rogers and Ben Joseph were huge. Kyle continues to show why he's, in my opinion, one of the best playmakers in the country and Ben brings that gritty toughness that you maybe don't always see in the backline. In the forwards, Sean Coleman was the guy, really running the show and Steven Branham really did a lot of work in the trenches that maybe doesn't show up on the scoresheet.”
As for its next opponent, Arizona doesn’t know what to expect from Baylor, but it will be prepared. “We haven't seen Baylor at all this year and we know they're a conference champion so we have great respect for that,” Duffy concluded. “They'll be at home and have a week to prep so we will have to take the next step. One week at a time.”